Each of the zodiac signs has a deeper nature to unfold. But Gemini has puzzled me for a while. Who are Geminis trying to become, what is their deeper nature? Mercury-ruled Gemini has a glittering surface, but what is underneath? We know that Gemini is the light twin and the dark twin, so there is something there in the dark twin, something weightier.
I think the answer is probably somewhere in the character of Mercury, or Hermes. Amongst other things the god Mercury is the guide to the Underworld, and rules divination. He is also a trickster. And he is the messenger of the gods. So there are these connections to something Other, to the Unconscious, to the outer planets.
Famous Gemini: Boris Johnson, Mayor of London. Asked if he had ever tried cocaine he said yes, but I sneezed. Compare that to Bill Clinton who, asked if he had ever smoked weed said yes, but I didn’t inhale. Spot the Gemini. Boris Johnson as usual clowns his way out of a situation that would be a serious reputational issue for most politicians, and gives it a Gemini twist. Because he has turned it into a joke, he can’t be accused of lying. And in so doing he legitimises a taboo subject, allows the truth to come out, which is yes of course we politicians have taken drugs of some sort, just like everyone else has.
Italy is a Gemini nation. The only leader of a lasting government since the war has been Silvio Berlusconi (who has Gemini at the top of his chart, which is how the world sees you). He does openly what many other people in positions of power would do secretly. He controls the media through owning them, he bribes, he evades tax, he engages in illegal wiretaps, he invites underage prostitutes to sex parties. He is continually prosecuted while Prime Minister, always eventually wriggles out of it, and the Italians have by and large loved him for it.
You could say that Gemini-Sagittarius is the axis of Truth. And that Gemini acts as a counter-balance to the Sagittarian gaze at the heavens; his dark twin/Mercury brings in less comfortable truths. But he tricks and charms us into that awareness. In 1996 I had a dream telling me to set up a particular Buddhist organisation, so I did, and it worked very well for a while. And then I ran into a power struggle with those who considered themselves above me, and before I knew it I was off on an entirely different life, much more my own life. So that was Mercury as trickster (Uranus, another trickster, was conjunct my Mercury in 1996!), guiding me to Pluto’s Underworld and a necessary transformation, but I would never have done it if I’d known in advance what was going to happen.
So I think Mercury is so much more than the way our mind works and the way we communicate. He is easy to overlook in a reading if he is in the same sign as the Sun. And Mercury-ruled Geminis seem to embody well this aspect. They seem on the one hand to be the most superficial of signs, but that’s all a show: their presence beguiles and tricks us into an awareness of the shadow, of the parts of ourselves and of life that we’d rather ignore.
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Mythologically, Mercury/Hermes was the son of Maia, a mountain nymph, and Zeus. After he was born he grew at astonishing speed into a young boy and, as soon as his mother’s back was turned, he was off in search of adventure.
He arrived at Pieria, where Apollo was tending a fine herd of cows, and he decided to steal them. He knew they could be traced by their tracks, so he made a number of shoes out of bark and tied them with grass to the feet of the cows – and he put them on backwards, so they looked like they were going in the opposite direction. Hermes drove the cows away at night. Apollo was taken in by the deception, and couldn’t find his cows anywhere. So he offered a reward for their return. Silenus and his Satyrs wanted the reward, so they searched for a long time, until one day some of them were passing through Arcadia and heard the sound of music coming from a cave, music like they’d never heard before.
The nymph Cyllene told them that the music was being played by a boy who she was nursing, because he had lulled his mother to sleep with the music. And that, ingeniously, the boy had made the instrument out of a tortoise shell and cow-gut. The satyrs ears pricked up. “And from where did he get the cow-gut?” they asked. “Are you accusing the boy of theft?” she replied. Harsh words were exchanged. Then Apollo turned up, having divined the identity of the thief from a long-winged bird. He recognised a couple of cow-hides stretched out nearby, and woke Maia, Hermes’ mother, and accused her son of theft. “That’s absurd,” she said, “Look at him lying there in his swaddling clothes, how could he have?”
But Apollo had seen enough and took Hermes off to Mount Olympus to be judged by Zeus, the king of the gods. Hermes denied the theft, Zeus as his father believed him, but Apollo would not back down, and eventually Hermes weakened and confessed to the theft. “Very well, you can have your cows back,” he said, “All except the two that I sacrificed to the 12 gods.”
“12?” said Zeus. “Yes, I’m a god as well,” replied Hermes. This was the first flesh sacrifice ever made.
So Apollo and Hermes returned to Mount Cyllene, and there Hermes played such a ravishing tune to his mother on a lyre he had made (inventing the plectrum along the way), with words in praise of Apollo’s nobility and intelligence, that Apollo forgave him at once. He led Apollo to the cows, playing and singing along the way, and Apollo offered to exchange his cows for the lyre. “Agreed”, said Hermes, and they shook hands on it.
Hermes then cut some reeds and made a shepherd’s pipe and played another tune. Apollo, again delighted, offered to exchange the pipe for his golden staff. “My pipe is worth more than that,” said Hermes, “I want you to teach me augury too.” “I can’t do that,” said Apollo, “ but my old nurses, the Thriae, can teach you to divine with pebbles.”
They agreed on this, and returned to Mount Olympus, where Apollo told Zeus all that had happened. As his father, Zeus told Hermes that from now on he must respect the rights of property and refrain from telling downright lies. (Boris Johnson told an outright lie when he called accusations he had had an affair “an inverted pyramid of piffle.”) But Zeus was also amused. “You seem to be a very ingenious, eloquent and persuasive godling,” he said.
“Then make me your herald,” Hermes replied, “and I will be responsible for the safety of all divine property, and never tell lies, though I cannot promise always to tell the whole truth.”
“That would not be expected of you, said Zeus with a smile. “But your duties would include the making of treaties, the promotion of commerce, and the maintenance of free rights of way for travellers on any road in the world.” When Hermes agreed to these conditions, Zeus gave him a herald’s staff with white ribbons, which everyone was ordered to respect; a round hat against the rain, and winged golden sandals which carried him about with the swiftness of wind. He was at once welcomed into the Olympian family, whom he taught the art of making fire by the rapid twirling of the fire-stick.
Hades (Pluto) also engaged him as his herald, to summon the dying gently and eloquently, by laying the golden staff upon their eyes.
Hermes then assisted the 3 Fates in the composition of the alphabet, invented astronomy, the musical scale, the arts of boxing and gymnastics, weights and measures, and the cultivation of the olive tree.
So that is the main story about Hermes from Robert Graves’ book The Greek Myths. You can see why he rules Gemini: the quality of youth, the numerous talents, the charm, the dodgy relationship with the truth. And also that more solemn side to him, guiding souls to the Underworld. But also, I think, the Underworld as part of life, and Hermes’ role in beguiling us “to summon the dying gently and eloquently”, to the place of transformation.
And he is not just a myth or an archetype, words which too easily roll off our tongue as we reduce something living to an idea. He is a presence, he is a god, like all the planets, and needs to be honoured. He really is out there, as we are all probably experiencing during the current Mercury Retrograde period. Why do problems surface with my vehicles or computers so regularly during these periods, far more than at other times? It is certainly not for any scientific reason. The only explanation that seems reasonable to me is that yes, there is indeed a god called Mercury out there making this happen.
Yes, making it happen. The planets as gods do make stuff happen. I’m a simple human being, I cannot get my head around synchronicities and mysterious ‘energies’ as explanations. But I can feel and kind of see these gods. I am wary of Hermes, rightfully so. But I know with the right relationship to him, he’s just exposing underlying weaknesses with my vehicles. And when he tricks me into difficult but transformative situations, I know he is trying to help. And if I call on him, he will help me find the right words and to think on my feet.
I think it is hard for us to get our heads around the idea of the gods acting on our lives without experiencing it as a sort of Christian God thing, the capricious almighty in heaven who judges us and determines our fate. We have rightly rebelled against that, but I think we have gone to the other extreme. We have created a world of Free Will, in which mere humans are masters of their destinies, but Fate is there biting us in the backside, telling us we are mere packages of matter ruled by natural laws, no Free Will at all.
The gods are the Fate aspect of our lives, our deliberation and action is the Free Will aspect, and I don’t see them as opposing. You can have gods acting on you without losing any of your own dignity and choice as a human being, in fact I think they go together. This is a whole other subject. But I think it can only be understood through action, through experiencing these ‘archetypal presences’ in which astrology deals, by propitiating them as gods and seeing where it leaves you.